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He hurts all over. The warm pressure of Castiel’s hand on his chest seems to pierce right through his heart, a needle of pain lancing apart the comfort. “Nothing makes sense,” he complains. “Where are we? Why…”

Why what? Why the darkness? Why the stench of guilt clinging to his oldest friend and dearest brother? He remembers a cold, bright barb and then light, light, light. He shuts his eyes against the memory, and when he opens them, there are others, men and women, pulling Castiel away.

“Wait,” he croaks, unheeded in the chaos. “I need to know…”

Dean is swearing, protesting. Cas is silent, bewildered and sad. Neither of them sees him reaching, but something else does, inside his head. Slowly, he sinks back.

Rosewood leans over him, rearranging blankets maternally. “Ssh. You’re confused. You’ll feel better after some rest. Kaidus says…”

“Later.” A robed figure cuts her off and beckons her out of the room.

“The less talk, the sooner he’ll recover.”

She nods and forces a reassuring smile, and then everyone’s gone, and he’s alone in the dark room.

Except he’s not.

At the end of the bed he can feel the weight of someone sitting, but no matter how much he strains his eyes in the gloom, no shape appears.
Did it hurt? A cheerful male voice asks at last. The accent is a jumble of London, Paris, and New York, with a rasp that suggests the speaker used to smoke far too much, or drink too much hard liquor. Maybe both.

“What? I…a lot hurts.”

No, no. You’re supposed to say ‘did what hurt?’ and then I say ‘when you fell from Heaven’. There’s a little laugh. You’re really off your dot, Balthazar. Sit up.

And he does, because what the hell else can he do? Soothing fingers slide through his hair, invisible. Slowly, it begins to make sense again.


~*~

“I don’t think anger is what the Teamaster meant by focusing our thoughts,” Castiel told Dean wearily.

“Yeah, well, your angel buddies are great at being calm, but that hasn’t gotten them anywhere,” Dean said, and kicked a rock into the stream at their feet.

It was one of the endless, winding, near-black tributaries that ran through the dust without providing any visible nourishment to the woods. If you touched them, they were icy. If you stayed close for too long, things churned in the depths or crept toward you, along the shore. But the smell of the water was sweet, and you could drink it; you just had to watch your back while you did.

The ripples from the falling rock lapped at the banks of the stream. Castiel shrugged, too tired to argue.

Dean persisted, “I got Sam once. I felt him. But I can’t reach him again, Cas. Zen isn’t getting us anywhere.”

The hell of it was, Cas could see his point. But he was also far too intimately familiar with what anger and frustration could do. Unable to offer a better solution, he shrugged again and patted his friend on the arm. “Just be careful.”

If there had been a visible wall between Purgatory and the earth, Dean would have been willing to hammer on it with his head until either the brick surrendered or his skull caved in. That was how he worked, and Castiel admired it. Sometimes. Not always.

Not today.

Dean made a little growl of disgust, wanting feedback and receiving none. Maybe that was part of the problem with him and Cas. Sam was usually the emotive one, and with him Dean could sit back and be snarky, totally in control. Castiel took the opposite role, remote and calm (or remote and babbling about bees, which was worse—at least that tendency had died down on their journey through Purgatory), and that forced Dean to be the one with all the feelings. “Say something,” he ordered, knowing he was being unreasonable, and not caring.

Cas was looking across the water, alert. He raised a hushing hand. “Something’s coming.”

Shit. Dean scrambled up the bank, grabbing for the makeshift weapons of wood and bone they carried. He needn’t have bothered. Across the water, a voice shouted, “Hello? Oh! Hello! There you are! I’ve been looking for ages!”

“Balthazar? Or…Baralis?”

Dean turned to find the two angels staring across the stream. Cas had brightened visibly, relieved to see his brother alive and well and smiling—smiling?—in the gray-blue shadow of a dead tree.

“Hello!” The blond waved madly. “Neither, I’m afraid. Not right now. Is there a way across?”

Dean frowned, looking around for the others. It wouldn’t be good to be caught by the other Lightborn, not now. They may not have made much progress, but what they had made was too hard-won to lose. “Where are your pals?” He asked.

“I think we should be pals,” was the answer. “Look, I can shout at you all day, but we’ll draw attention. The stream narrows to the east. Meet me there?”

“Of course.” Cas answered before Dean could weigh their options. “We’ll be quick.”

Balthazar, or whoever he was, vanished into the brush with a soft rustle, and Dean frowned at Castiel. “You don’t think this could be a trap?”

“What reason do they have to trap us?” Cas moved off slowly. “We’re no threat to them free and no asset to them captured and in prison.”

“You think? We know where their camp is. They might not like that information floating around.”

Cas sighed noisily. “I think…that I’m going. If you won’t, then we should make a plan to meet later.”

Dean froze, struck by the idea that Cas would leave him behind. For even a moment, for anything. It scared him more than he cared to admit. “Fine,” he snapped. “I’m with you. But if it’s a trap, I’m going to say I told you so. More than once.”

“That sounds fair.” Cas nodded soberly, and led the way.

~*~


The other angel was waiting for them, on a boulder that crossed the stream at its narrow point. He was seated, cross-legged, and for the first time, Dean noticed he was without his robe, dressed in scraps of wool and leather, patched together with neat, dark stitches. Cas hurried up to the stone, but his steps became more hesitant as he came close enough to touch.

“Are you well now? The others, what happened?” Castiel knelt.

Dean hung back, ready to fight and watching the two brothers uncertainly.
“Right. Well, I left. That’s the first thing. Or the second.” He shook his head. “I’m beginning badly. I’m not Balthazar, just now. I’m Levi. Levi Gilman. But I know who you are. Both of you.”

“Who…?” Dean’s guard began to lower slowly. He stepped a little closer.

“His vessel. Balthazar’s vessel?” Castiel sat back, stunned. “How are you here? Awake? Alive?”

“I don’t think I’m any more alive than he is. But we’re bound, because he died in my body.”

Dean watched Castiel’s expression crumple, guilt and regret leaking out of every pore. Giving up on vigilance, he came over and put a hand on his friend’s back, unconsciously bristling with protectiveness. “So what do you want from us?”

“Dean,” Cas protested weakly, and managed to force his gaze to level with Levi’s. “I’m sorry. I killed so many…and I…”

“No, no. Stop that. That’s not what I’m here for.” Levi frowned and shook his head. “I mean, I know you’re sorry, and so does Balthazar, but it’s not going to help anyone get out of here. All right? That’s why I came looking for you.”

“To get out of Purgatory?” Dean asked slowly.

“Well, to help you get out. I’m not sure it’ll work the same for us.” He waved a hand dismissively. “But you three have a chance, and you’re likely to be better equipped to help us from outside.”

“I don’t know if I can leave,” Castiel began, but Dean interrupted.

“Wait, three? There’s two of us.” He gestured from himself to Cas and back. “Unless you know something we don’t.”

Levi looked startled. “You haven’t even talked to him? Good lord, what’s the matter with you?”

Castiel blinked, bewildered. “…him?”

“Jimmy, you idiots. Jimmy Novak. You’re still in his body, Cas. He’s right there.” Levi pointed his index finger at the center of Castiel’s forehead. “And if you’d both stop brooding for a while, you’d probably hear him.”

~*~

To Jimmy, everything is light, and light is cruel. The brightness is solid, enormous burning bricks of gold that tumble over and around him, bruising, suffocating. Like being chained to a comet, he had told the Winchesters. Or like being imprisoned in the heart of a star going nova. The pain was indescribable at first. Now, it just is.

He’s used to it. Everything is light, and light is everything. Light is his voice and his ears and the tips of his fingers.

Castiel! Castiel, damn it! Listen! The light speaks, and doesn’t answer.



The stream hissed and babbled away. Levi sat on the knee of a looming cypress, while Cas knelt nearby and Dean paced, out of his depth and uncertain how to find the surface.

“We give up a lot for you,” Levi said. “Your vessels. And not all of us were willing, to be perfectly honest. Just because you have to hear us say ‘yes’ doesn’t mean everyone who agrees understands what they’re agreeing to. In fact, I would say most of us didn’t. I didn’t, but I didn’t have anything to lose, either.”

Castiel nodded slowly. “You were dying. Balthazar told me a little.”

“Not what I meant.” He shook his head, then glanced up to explain to Dean, “I’m an alcoholic. Well, we didn’t have that word in my time. I was just a drunk. At any rate, it did a number on my liver. Eight or ten months left. Maybe more if I’d had the money to go live in a sanatorium.”

“When was this?” Dean frowned.

“1916, or thereabouts,” he said. “But what I meant by nothing to lose was that I had no family, no lover, no children. No one but my creditors to miss me, really, and maybe a few colleagues. I knew I wouldn’t be coming back to my life. Jimmy gave up far more than I.”

“How do you even know who he was?” Dean asked, then corrected himself. “Is. Sorry.”

“I talked to him. When Baralis was dying in Castiel’s arms. You saw the light, didn’t you?” Levi met Dean’s eyes. “That light was from human souls, his and mine, mingling with Castiel’s Grace. We all sort of got mashed together for a bit, I think.”

“What woke you, then? The contact with another human soul?” Cas frowned. “Or the power from my Grace?”

“Hard to say. Maybe both. But now I am awake, and Balthazar’s given me the reins for a bit. He’s listening, still, but weak. The longer I stay in control, the longer he’ll keep his memories. That could be important.” Levi smiled at Dean. “Purgatory wasn’t built to hold ordinary humans. We have a better chance of slipping out through the bars, so to speak.”

Recalling what the Teamaster had said, Dean nodded, frowning. “Because angels only die once…but humans go around a few times?”

Levi grimaced. “Don’t ask me the details, please. I only know what Mary told me, and I’m not sure I get it. I used to be an atheist, you know.”

“Heh. I hear you.” Dean exhaled noisily. “Okay, who’s Mary?”

“A Traveler. I found her, or she found me. Look, just come see her. She’s like the Teamaster. She can help.”

Castiel and Dean exchanged glances. “Another Elder Soul,” the angel said. “Are you certain she’ll be willing to help?”

“Yeah, I feel like we lucked out with the Teamaster,” Dean added. “Not that he was real clear with the directions…”

“It’s worth the risk,” Levi got up and held out both hands. “To see her Orchard. It’s so beautiful. Please?”

Castiel took one hand awkwardly. “You said it yourself, Dean. Zen isn’t getting us anywhere.”

The hunter raised an eyebrow at the tableau of angels holding hands. “Okay, we’ll go,” he said. “But I’m not playing hopscotch with you two.”
Levi laughed, unoffended, and led the way.

~*~


Sam liked working the night shift. It gave him an excuse not to sleep, and anyway night made him think of hunting, and of Dean, and of the smell of blood and ichor. Maybe it was because so much of their work had been in the dark, or maybe (he hoped to hell not) it was a few trace remnants of demon blood, but dusk seemed to bring a burst of adrenaline with it.

Too bad adrenaline wasn’t much good for stocking shelves in Wal-Mart.
He had been telling himself he’d go back to hunting, soon, maybe even tomorrow. Somehow it hadn’t happened. Life had, though, and rather than fall apart where he stood, he had chosen to step forward, move on, and try to build something that approached some kind of normalcy. A job was logical. This one was crap, but he could do it without much effort. He was young, strong, and oversized, so hoisting 50-pound bags of dog food was no trouble.

Late at night he sometimes talked to the panting yellow puppy on the packages. Once, at the end of a long shift, he had felt a little loopy, and started feeling around the bags to make sure they were full of kibble and not, in actuality, Golden Retrievers. So far so good.

At the end of his shift, he clocked out and retreated to the Impala in the back lot. He had a room in a long-stay motel, but somehow, he was just too worn to get there. Sinking into the driver’s seat, he groaned softly and stroked the dash.

Somewhere, Dean was alive. Sam was sure of that now. The flicker of contact he had felt before, in the wee hours of morning, was no dream. His brother needed help. But damned if he knew how to get it to him.

He reclined the seat, tired in body and mind, and closed his eyes. He had slept in this car more times than he could count, but never before in the driver’s seat. Dean might let him take the wheel sometimes, but to sleep behind it was different. Now, he almost fancied he could feel how the headrest had conformed to the shape of his elder brother’s head. It smelled of leather and gun oil, too, but so did the rest of the car. That combination was practically eu de Winchester, he reflected, and smiled.
Somewhere, between dream and wakefulness, Sam’s mind calmed, and reached.

~*~

Bobby keeps the fires lit. They circle the little hut he and Karen have scratched out of the rock and the wood, fierce and bright. The light keeps the monsters at bay most of the time, and on the rare occasions it doesn’t, a burning brand is a good weapon. They get by.

He keeps the fires, and Karen watches for trouble and keeps the cottage clean. She grows nameless vines in the little garden beside the door. They never bloom, and they grow nothing edible, but since neither of them needs to eat, that doesn’t matter. The plants like her, and she likes them.
Husband and wife never sleep at the same time, but when one does rest, the other holds them close, determined to protect, determined to stay together, ghosts still stubbornly in love.

“This ain’t really what I was hoping for in an afterlife,” Bobby says once, as they watch a dull parody of the aurora borealis churn in the Purgatorial skies.

“Yeah? What did you want, babe?” She links arms with him and smiles, because this isn’t what she had bargained for, either, but when he’s down, it’s her job to bring him back up.

“…actually, I’m not real sure.”

Karen chuckles and slides into his lap, studying him fondly. “I’m sorry you missed out on your seventy-two virgins, honey.”

He blushes, and puts his hands on her waist. “Heh. Well, you’re worth a hundred and fifty virgins, at least.”

The firelight paints her hair red-gold, but casts her eyes in glimmering shadow. “You silver-tongued devil! Kiss me, then, and forget about Heaven. We’re together. That’s worth a lot.”

Bobby does kiss her, and her lips are soft and warm, just like the very first time he touched them. He decides celestial streets paved with gold can go fuck themselves.


~*~

“Bobby,” Sam could see nothing but smoke, and ashes threatened to choke his lungs. He coughed. “Bobby, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Sam? What the hell--?? The smoke thinned, a pale hand waving through it. For a brief moment, Sam thought he saw Bobby’s face, incredulous and shocked, but then it was swallowed up in gray. You’d better not be dead, boy.

“Aren’t I dreaming?” Sam coughed again, throat burning.

You dream about Purgatory much?

“Purgatory?” Sam’s mind swam, dampened in the haze of half-sleep. But it made sense. After fleeing his Reaper, where else could Bobby’s soul go after its tie to Earth was cut? And Purgatory…that was where a dead Leviathan would go, too, wasn’t it? Urgently, in case this wasn’t just a dream, he said, “Bobby, have you seen Dean? Have you seen Cas?”

Shit. Should I have? Bobby’s face shimmered into view again, mouth set grimly.

“We killed Dick, Bobby,” Sam summed up. “He exploded and they just disappeared, but I thought I felt Dean once, just a few nights ago. I even tried a Ouija board and got nothing, but I know it wasn’t my imagination. They might be there. With you. Alive.”

There was a moment of silence, and Sam felt the smoke thin into spidery threads. He clung desperately to the connection, such as it was.

If they’re here, I’ll find them. Bobby’s voice seemed to cross a wide gulf. Sam was returning to reality. The more he tried to cling, the more Bobby’s presence seemed to drift away. Just you stay alive, okay? Do that for me.

Sam couldn’t answer. The smell of smoke was gone, replaced by the drum of rain on the roof of the Impala. He coughed and wheezed a few times, then reluctantly dragged his eyes open. The sky was the color of pewter, the first rays of dawn illuminating heavy cloud cover. He watched raindrops slide down the windshield numbly, then started the car and headed for his motel.

~*~

The sky seemed to be lightening above them, turning to a kindlier shade of blue. Dean wasn’t sure what to make of it and hadn’t asked his companions for an opinion yet. Cas seemed to be absorbed in Levi, or Balthazar, watching him forge ahead of them as if prepared to leap to his defense, should a predator appear.

It made Dean wonder where he stood. Maybe it was just Castiel’s overactive guilt, but the hunter couldn’t help but reflect that the two angels had known one another since before the human species existed. That was a lot of history. History he might never be able to fathom.

‘You deserve my friendship,’ Cas had said, ‘Believe you deserve to have that family.’ If it weren’t for the memory of those warm words, Dean thought he might be jealous right about now. Even with them, he was beginning to feel like a third wheel.

“We’re getting close,” Levi interrupted the dismal reverie, stopping to stroke a tree trunk. “These are the outskirts of her orchard.”

Cas touched the trunk, too, and looked puzzled. “This feels strange. It’s not bark.”

“The tree?” Dean pushed closer to feel the same spot. It felt soft, almost fuzzy, but knobbly and irregular. Almost like piled knots beneath flannel. “What the hell?”

“You’ll see,” Levi smiled. “She’s an artist. I suppose that’s why she spoke to me. I was a painter, before Balthazar came to me.”

“I saw the sketches you drew of him, after he first spoke to you,” Castiel put in. “He kept them. I think he was flattered.”

“You drew pictures of an angel without getting your eyes burned out?” Dean raised an eyebrow at Levi.

“Well, I didn’t look at him. I just…felt. It’s hard to explain, unless you do the same sort of thing. It’s like Michelangelo said: ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ Except I never did much sculpture.”

“…okay.” Dean didn’t think he actually wanted to understand, anyway. “So this Mary…we’re not talking about the Mary?”

“What, you mean the Virgin? No, no. You’ll not have heard of this one in Sunday School.” Levi shook his head.

“I never went to Sunday School,” Dean smirked.

"Neither did I," Cas commented absently, and moved on ahead of them.


((TBC))
museofrainydays: (made by tmg_icons (LJ))
Her parents had named her Sarah Lynn, but she called herself Crow, and after a while, so did everyone else. She always wore dark stockings under men’s steel-toed workboots (size six and a half, hard to find), and she owned one black wool peacoat, which she wore in all kinds of weather. Her hair, which was dark brown, never stayed down but stuck up in all kinds of unruly spikes around her pointed little face.

She raised crows. She had found the first pair fallen from a nest by the highway and rescued them. They imprinted on her and even after they grew up they followed her everywhere she went, like two guardian angels, or maybe the familiars of a witch.

Dozens more followed the first two, and she became known as the local eccentric. Her crows were clever. People said they stole for her and made her rich. It was widely known that she never worked. Some of the local children even whispered stories about little boys that wandered into her yard and were never seen again, either made into food for her precious birds or turned into birds themselves.

She liked little girls, they said. Sometimes she gave them gifts, like some kind of hipster faerie in thrift-store clothing. I still have the necklace she gave me when I was six; braided sinew strung with beads of bone and sleek, inky feathers.
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I wrote this well over a year ago, but it seems like an appropriate inaugural entry.


I want a blog. (Also a large sewing studio, a big butter and eggs man, and a new drug that makes me feel like I feel when I’m with youuuuu~.)

Herein, some rambling )

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